The Monochrome Set

Fabula Mendax

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Since they re-formed in the early 2010s in the wake of chief songwriter and vocalist Bid's serious health scare and renewed lease on life, the Monochrome Set have been releasing a steady stream of great albums that combine Bid's singular songwriting style with '60s-influenced hooky guitar pop with some Baroque shadings around the edges. The last couple of albums have come close to masterpiece status, showing off Bid's way with words and melody in a snappy, funny, and smart fashion that few of their contemporaries managed. 2019's Fabula Mendax does nothing to jeopardize the band's winning streak and adds some new twists and turns. Monochrome Set claim the songs are inspired by diaries written by one of Joan of Arc's contemporaries, and though that's not true, much of the album does have an epic feel and expanded arrangements that sound mythical and ancient, too. The cinematic "Rest, Unquiet Spirit" adds vocal chants, pounding timpani, and strings to get the feel of the soundtrack to a religious epic, "My Little Reliquary" adds a variety of horns and acoustic stringed instruments to conjure up what sounds like a swirling street scene, and the rest of the arrangements are stuffed with enough instruments to make Arcade Fire jealous. In the midst of all the cinematic sound and widescreen scope, Bid turns in a fine vocal performance, sounding like a prophet or preacher in the eye of a storm deftly dishing out witty yarns of gloom, doom, and mystery. There's not as much humor in the lyrics this time out thanks to the thematic conceit, but Bid doesn't need jokes to be his usual brilliant self. The band and the gathered musicians back his timeless tales with sure-handed nuance and good-humored bluster, working up a rollicking storm on jaunty songs like "I Can't Sleep," rocking out a bit on the blues ripper "Sliding Icicle," and showing where Belle and Sebastian got some of their swagger on the classic Set-sounding "Come to Me, Oh, My Beautiful." Fabula Mendax is another winning installment of the Monochrome Set story that reaches the same heady heights as their recent work, and proves yet again that the group somehow remain as surprising, witty, and tunefully intriguing as they have been right from the start.

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